Silent Hunter III
Live at the German Games Convention
Article and photographs by Drebbel
August 23, 2004
Silent Hunter III is coming, move over Aces of the Deep !
Of course, SUBSIM Review visited the German Games Convention (GC2004) in Leipzig to checkout the latest news and details on the UBISoft U-boat simulation, Silent Hunter III. This U-boat simulation has been under development since January 2003 and is planned to be released during the first quarter of 2005. The GC2004 was held from 19 to 22 August and is Europe's largest electronic games exposition/convention. During the convention there where two ways to get a glimpse of Silent Hunter III.
There was no dedicated booth for Silent Hunter III but there was one public stage appearance planned for Thursday early afternoon. Unfortunately that show was postponed to the end of the day (one hour before the Games Convention closed) and that was probably the reason that there was not a large audience present. But eventually Producer Florin Boitor and Lead Game Designer Tiberius Astianax "Maddog" Lazar came on stage. I have never seen two more opposite personalities in one team. Florin is a silent reserved guy and Tiberius has a more different (to say the least) look and attitude, but they seem a good team that complements each other very well. After a short introductory interview by a blonde babe and the two dev-team members telling us that they had a lousy flight from Romania, they fired up Silent Hunter III.
They started a real mission so it was by no means a scripted demo. During the show Florin and Tiberius enthusiastically showed some instant action and attacked & torpedoed several ships. The audience could see what Florin and Tiberius were doing on a huge screen. Unfortunately, all the flashing disco lights made it nearly impossible to take good photos of the large screen. One visitor got lucky and was offered to enter the stage and take control of Silent Hunter III. He tried to lock to a target and send some fish on their way. It was very funny to see Tiberius reprimanding him for torpedoing a vessel that was already sinking. But that sinking vessel just happened to be between the U-boat and the intended target.
For the visitor who was new to Silent Hunter III, the demonstration must have been very exciting; but to visitors that frequently visit the official Silent Hunter III website there was not much new stuff to see (except for the TDC screens). Nevertheless, I am glad I was there because who wants to miss a live Silent Hunter III show ?
The second way of 'meeting' Silent Hunter III was a 'behind closed doors' press meeting and of course Subsim Review was invited to such a meeting. During this meeting, Florin, Tiberius and a group of five members of the press would gather around a computer and Tiberius would start his pitch. I was surprised that none of the journalists asked any questions but Subsim has never been known for 'keeping their mouth shut' so I interrupted Tiberius many times to ask for additional details or information. In order to give him a chance to tell us what he wanted to tell as well, I asked questions that were all somewhat related to the issues he was addressing at that moment. Of course, it was not possible to take monitor shots during the meeting. Florin and Tiberius showed us several special missions. One was a mission of an allied convoy to Malta that was attacked by a U-boat and by the Luftwaffe. Another was a mission specially written to show us that Silent Hunter III is not just a 'good weather' simulation. The transition from New York by day to New York by night was also very impressive.
The info below all comes from either the stage performance or the 'behind closed doors' meeting. I will not mention information and details that are already well known and published on the official Silent Hunter III website. This article will try to focus on new information and details.
I asked several times for a list of most realism options, but the team didn't fall for it and just mentioned a couple. These are described throughout this article. The Silent Hunter III realism menu was not shown by the dev-team but they said it uses the well known 'tick the boxes' method.
It must be said that there is no such thing as 'casual' or 'hardcore' mode. These terms are basically used to refer to a very low and very high realism setting. A player can switch on the options he (or she, of course) likes and set the ones he dislikes to off. So he can create the right 'realism cocktail' for his own personal taste.
As expected the free moving outside camera enables one to 'go everywhere'. Below the surface, on the surface, and in the sky. This external camera can be disabled in the realism menu.
Looking at the convoy from a bird's-eye view clearly showed that the convoy had many different type of ships, with different flags, weapons and deck loads. All vessels had nice looking bow waves and wakes. There where even landing ships in the convoy. All in all a very impressive and immersive sight.
It is also possible to pause to game but still move around with the external camera. The external camera can be used full screen but in almost all screens one can open a small popup window that shows the views of the external camera. When the camera is hovering above the surface a red circle with an arrow indicates the position and heading of the player's U-boat.
The pre-mission map (when using the single mission feature) shows a general overview of the area complete with Kriegsmarine Grid. This map informs the player about stuff like: Where the friendly and enemy bases are, the radius of airbases, which route he takes, and where his patrol zone is. When starting the actual mission one does not have to wait until it is loaded by looking at a dull progress bar, but one sees a line moving over the chart simulating the transit to the patrol area. Many of these single missions have primary and secondary objectives that the player should reach.
The general tactical map (that is used when the mission has started) is a light blue map and unfortunately does not resemble a real WWII sea chart at all. At lower realism settings the map also shows circles that indicate sensor (like radar and sonar) range. The realism menu lets the player disable these circles just as he can decide to switch of stuff like 'accurate map position' and 'auto map updates'.
There is not much to tell about the holy grail of subsims, the Dynamic Campaign. The most important thing is that the dev-team decided to grant the wishes of the subsimming community and postpone the release date to Q1 2005 in order to be able to include a Dynamic Campaign. The team is working very hard on the dynamic campaign and they expect to have the first working version available sometime this winter. This means they still have a long way to go and therefore they could not show any parts of the Dynamic Campaign or comment on any detailed questions.
The team showed us several sinking ships. They all sunk differently, some even broke in two. There is also a good variety in damaged ships, some are burning heavily and others are just listing. And there is oil on the water and floating debris when a vessel sinks. And no, you can not gather points by picking up items from the debris.
Some people requested real holes in the ships in case a torpedo has hit the target. Silent Hunter III does not simulate real holes since there are no graphics for the inside of the vessels. This would simply cost too much graphical resources and take dev team hours away from critical features. But naturally there are textures that show hole-like damage. The team is thinking of adding some air bubbles that are escaping from the hole, but they did not yet make a definite decision on that.
Secondary explosions are well simulated and influenced by the type of cargo. So a vessel loaded with ammunition will have more secondary explosions than a vessel loaded with vehicles. When a bomb (from an air attack) hits a depth charge rack of a destroyer the depth charges will explode as well.
The buoyancy of the cargo does not influence the sinking model of the target. So a ship loaded with timber will sink as fast as a ship loaded with steel. Florin said that it is 'do-able' to change this but at the moment they are all working very hard on the Dynamic Campaign.
At the moment the damage to the player's U-boat is listed in a damage screen somewhat similar to the well known SH2 damage screen. Next to the damage is the time needed to repair is listed. The dev-team is thinking of replacing this time indication by more vague descriptions like short/long/etc.. I asked the question if Silent Hunter III would make the mistake (as in SH2) by reporting outside damage (e.g. the deck gun) while being submerged. I got no real good answer, so either they did not understand me or they were being evasive. They told me that one would know the deck gun had major damage because this would influence the hydrodynamics and the sailing model.
Although crew management is a major new feature of the simulation it can probably only be judged after many hours of playing. But it certainly is a great new feature that looks very promising and will give the captain many interesting new tasks.
As we all know the U-boat is divided in various compartments (engine room, torpedo room, etcetera) and if one places a petty officer in a compartment (one petty officer can oversee the maximum of one compartment) this will improve the quality of the whole crew in this apartment. Officers can be ordered to keep an eye on a maximum of three compartments and they also improve the quality of all crew working in those compartments.
During a campaign the U-boat captain can promote and/or award his crew members. This will influence moral, which in return will influence the effectiveness of the crew. The effectiveness of the crew is also influence by the weather. During stormy weather, while sailing on the surface, the crew will fatigue much quicker and this will influence their personal performance and moral.
In Silent Hunter III the Torpedo Data Computer uses a whole new approach when compared to SH2 and Aces of the Deep. Some people might have wanted a 100% realistically looking TDC but this Silent Hunter III TDC screen has a whole range of new features and possibilities for the casual as well as the hardcore player.
Like in all previous subsims there is a fully automated TDC that, after locking on to a target, tracks the target automatically and sends the data to the selected torpedo. Auto-TDC accuracy is influenced by stuff like weather and sea state. Torpedos will not have their correct gyro setting as soon as they leave the tube, it will take some time before they have completed their turn and are heading in the right direction.
The main TDC screens shows all the well known standard buttons and dials at the edges of the screen. The centre space is taken up by a schematic drawing (which is actually serving as the background image for the TDC screen) that shows the engaged ships and their estimated course, target and estimated course, the U-boat and its course, plus the calculated path for the torpedo. All info is updated in real time when using casual mode. In a more realistic mode the information is updated according to how you manage your sensors. This schematic drawing helps the player to understand the calculations of the TDC and he can instantly see what a change in for example gyro setting or torpedo speed will do to the solution. This is a great way to make people understand the mysteries of the TDC and will help everyone that wants to make the leap from auto-TDC to manual-TDC. After launching the torpedo the map also shows the torpedo position in real time. This map can be disabled in the realism menu.
Normally the TDC data is sent to just one of the selected tubes but in Silent Hunter III the TDC also has a 'salvo' option which allows the player to select multiple tubes. The data from the TDC is send to all selected tubes (torpedo's) and together with a proper off-set angle for the gyro this is an easy way to fire a spread of torpedos to a target. Hardcore subsimmers might not like this 'salvo' option and will probably never use it so therefore it will not be available in 'hardcore-mode'. After hitting the fire button the torpedo's will be launched with short intervals and another click of a button switches the view to the outboard camera to watch the opening of the tubes (although I seem to remember that in real life they are opened before the fire command is given) and the launch of the fish. After the launch one can also switch to the torpedo camera to follow the weapon during its way to the target. Naturally the torpedo camera can be disabled in the realism menu.
For manual TDC lovers Silent Hunter III has a whole range of additional tools. First step is identifying which type of ship one has in sight and a detailed ship ID book is available for this purpose. For estimating the target range there is a horizontal line in the periscope view that can be dragged to the masthead of the target. A popup, simulating a piece of notebook paper, opens at the top-right corner of the screen and shows a rough triangle calculation and the result of the calculation--the distance from the U-boat to the target. For realism this distance is not 100% accurate. When using manual-TDC this distance has to be entered manually in the TDC.
A similar approach (with a popup) is used in order to determine the target speed by taking bearings. This process is somewhat speeded up for playability so it will not take half an hour to establish the speed of the target. Once again this data must be entered in the TDC manually. Finally the angle on the bow is determined in a similar way.
The TDC can also be fed with hydrophone/sonar data and fish can be fired from depths as deep as about 50 meters. But naturally this is only possible when one is commanding the right type of U-boat, type XXI to be exact.
I think it is fair to say that no WWII subsim has ever supported TDC use in such a good way. The team made a great effort to support auto-TDC as well as manual-TDC players.
The torpedo loadout overview screen looks like one would expect, only this time it is not a full screen but a popup screen. The war heads of the different torpedo types all have their own colour, which is even more visible when using the external camera to follow a torpedo.
Good Weather Simulation
People that have viewed all the official screenshots must have wondered if Silent Hunter III is just a good weather simulation. It is not !
Tiberius showed a mission where a U-boat was sailing on the surface during a big storm. It was an awesome sight. One could hear the wind blowing, water drops were flying all over the place, large waves washed the decks, and the waves had white tops. The boat was rocking and pitching all over the place. Also, down below one could see the rocking and bouncing of the boat. The crew on the rusty-looking bridge was wearing raincoats and hats.
Bad weather even influences the sailing model at shallow depths and one has to go deeper to get into calmer waters again. Even when the wind has died down there will still be larger waves, since it takes much longer for the sea to get calm again.
Storm also influences the crew management because crew members will get fatigue much faster, which will influence their personal performance. In case one is stupid enough to send out the deck gun crew in this weather they would wash off the deck immediately and drown. Definitely not good for morale.
Tiberius surfaced close to a convoy and and panned around, showing the convoy from the bridge point of view. Seeing the convoy on the horizon and the lookouts on the U-boat bridge was a very impressive and immersive sight. It created a great atmosphere and I immediately got the feeling of 'being there'.
The various menu screens that were shown where very nice and immersive. They looked like a typical desktops with pencils, glasses and other stuff lying around. Tiberius said, when showing the periscope screen, that it indeed was somewhat full of buttons and menus. So hopefully the dev-team will make some of the menus 'sliding' like was the case in SH2.
All available different U-boat types (II, VII, IX and XXI) will have different sailing models and hydrodynamics. There are even variations between boats of the same class. For example: A type VII version with additional A.A. guns will have a different sailing model and hydrodynamics model (e.g. lower speed and maneuverability) when compared to the standard type VII.
The 'swastika issue' has been a hot topic in various forums. Florin said that they are making a historical simulation and that therefore swastikas and iron crosses will be included. With an exception for the countries where they expect legal problems (like Germany). Tiberius said that he thinks that after the simulation has been released the fan communities will soon put the graphic files online that are needed to change a 'no-swastika' version into the standard version.
The Bottom Line
Florin and Tiberius said that they think a U-boat simulation does not mean they only have to simulate a cramped U-boat. Therefore they also simulated things like the Luftwaffe attacking allied convoys. Using the outside camera these attacks looked very impressive. (A nice detail is that these air attacks take away some of the escorts attention from Anti Submarine Warfare to Airdefence).
That's just one example that shows this simulation provides more (when compared to its predecessors) goodies and possibilities for instant action lovers that not have the patience to patrol for hours to locate an enemy unit. It would be great if this would result in higher sales because getting more people interested in subsims is what we need to get more good submarine simulations. But the Silent Hunter III team certainly did not forget the hardcore subsimmers. Some good examples of that are the detailed hydrodynamics/sailing model of the U-boat and the way the simulation supports manual-TDC. And then there is the new and exciting crew management feature. Of course, this feature still has to proof itself in the field, but it looks very promising and will certainly create a whole new range of challenges for the U-boat captain.
Important issues like Artificial Intelligence Quality, Artificial Intelligence Predictability, Re-Playability, Crew Management and Multiplay Stability can only be judged after many hours of playing. Hopefully Subsim Review can comment on those important issues in a future review.
My impression is that if there has ever been a subsim that can send the mother of all subsims--Aces Of The Deep--to a watery grave, it has to be Silent Hunter III !
Silent Hunter III is coming, move over Aces of the Deep !
Note: The reader should keep in mind that Silent Hunter III is still a work in progress and that some of the features and options might appear differently, or not at all, in the final release. Also be aware that most images on this page are low quality monitor shots (digital camera photos of a computer/beamer screen) and therefore should not be used to judge the graphics quality of the simulation.
Identify this subsimmer and win great prizes.
In Germany games are 'Geil' (horny), but who cares for that when we might be getting a great subsim in Q1 2005 :-)
Also see: Silent Hunter III forum Preorder Silent Hunter III here!
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